A New Mexico state employee is suing the state and several officials of the General Services Department alleging they retaliated against her for reporting problems with digital security and unfair pay.
Heather Burke, who provided troubleshooting and technical support to state employees, claims her bosses at the General Services Department (GSD) sent her a termination notice while she was on medical leave undergoing radiation treatment for breast cancer.
Ms. Burke alleges that prior to her medical leave, she repeatedly raised concerns with agency officials about policy violations and unfair pay compared to her male colleagues, but instead of addressing the problems appropriately, the General Services Department responded by slashing her work responsibilities, assignments, benefits, and income.
She also disputed the notice of termination she received while on medical leave. Her superiors told her she could return to work if she dropped the allegations of unfair treatment. She refused and was instead suspended for one week without pay.
According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, Ms. Burke still works for the General Services Department, but her return to work was met with a series of changes that are meant to marginalize her. Her complaint alleges that she was moved into an office that used to be a closet, stripped of her job duties, and given “a trickle of menial tasks,” the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.
“It became clear that GSD purposefully intended to continue to prevent Ms. Burke from the job that the taxpayers paid for her to do,” her lawsuit states.
Ms. Burke, a single mother who is still battling cancer, told the Santa Fe New Mexican that she would like to leave the General Services Department altogether but cannot afford to. “Finding a job while you’re fighting cancer is nearly impossible.”
Meanwhile, the problems she has repeatedly voiced concerns over continue to be ignored, her lawsuit alleges. The agency pays her an annual salary of $70,324 as an IT Generalist II, yet a less experienced male colleague doing the same job with less formal training receives $76,815 annually.
Ms. Burke also alleges there are security lapses that allow sensitive information such as Social Security cards and birth certificates to be stored on publicly accessible servers, among other serious problems. Still, she claims, nobody has investigated her concerns.
She seeks damages for violations of the New Mexico Whistleblower Protection Act and the Fair Pay for Women Act in addition to compensation for stress and damage to her career. Her lawsuit also asks the court ensure that General Services Department officials “be held accountable to the same disciplinary standards as any other employee would be, up to and including termination” for violating state rules and policies.
Sources: Santa Fe New Mexican